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Egyptian Feluccas: A Romantic Way to Sail the Nile River?

When cruising the Nile – stopping to visit beautiful temples and tombs in Egypt – it’s lovely to see the feluccas sailing by gracefully.

What are Egyptian feluccas?

Feluccas are the traditional wooden sailboats used in Egypt.

With a single sail and no engine, an Egyptian felucca is powered by the wind, zig-zagging back and forth along the Nile.

Felucca sailing on the Nile River
Some stretches of the Nile River are incredibly peaceful

Back in the time of the pharaohs, they would have been the only means of day-to-day river transport.

(Cleopatra had a sumptuous long barge, rowed by dozens of crew, for ceremonial occasions or to meet her Roman lovers.)

These days, Egyptian feluccas are mainly used to ferry visitors around who want to gain a glimpse of the silent, slow life on the river.

The stretch of the Nile between Aswan and Luxor is where you see the most Egyptian feluccas. Aswan, in particular, is renowned for its scenic sails around Elephantine Island and the botanical gardens.

Luxor, Egypt
Luxor is the jumping-off point for visiting a dizzying array of magnificent temples and tombs

Felucca or river cruise boat?

Sandra Scott wrote this about her experience sailing for six days from Aswan to Luxor on a 30-foot felucca:

“Falling asleep beneath a blanket of stars listening to the distant sound of Nubian drums, awakening to the timeless call of the muezzin summoning the faithful to prayer, sailing under deep blue skies past villages frozen in time…”

But as romantic as this sounds, in truth, Egyptian feluccas are simple vessels.

Life is fairly primitive on an overnight cruise. Eating, talking, sleeping – it all takes place on top of one open-space area.

Egyptian feluccas are romantic for a sunset cruise
Feluccas are a lovely way to sail the Nile (for a day trip)

For us, a luxury riverboat was the way to go (we’ve cruised the Nile on both Oberoi and Sanctuary Retreats’ riverboats).

Half-day felucca sailing in Aswan: Our experience

On both occasions though, we enjoyed a half-day of sailing on a felucca around the Aswan islands. (How can you go to Eygpt and not sail on an Egyptian felucca?)

As is typical, our Nubian boat captains piloted the rudder with one foot – one captain also simultaneously played his banjo for us.

Nubian captain sails a felucca in Aswan
Our Nubian captain sails our felucca in Aswan

We saw fishermen beat the water with poles, then catch 18-inch Nile perch that jumped into their nets.

You can take a felucca to Kitchener’s Island

Camels in the distance plodded along a sandy ridge at the edge of the Sahara desert.

The figs, palms, exotic tropical plants and shady trees of the botanical gardens on Kitchener’s Island loomed lush and green as we circled the island, given to Lord Horatio Kitchener in the 1890s in recognition of his military service in the Sudan.

Such contrasting scenery in Aswan, from sandy desert to the lush gardens of Kitchener’s Island…

A gentle breeze kept us pleasantly cool.

And the sun set slowly on our peaceful and calm surroundings – just as it would have in the days of the pharaohs.

Felucca booking tips

  • Shop around: Don’t jump on the first felucca that comes your way. Take a stroll along the Nile where the feluccas are moored and chat with several captains. This will give you a feel for the going rates and let you gauge who you might enjoy spending your trip with.
  • Negotiate the price: Prices aren’t usually set in stone. Negotiation is part of the experience. The cost can vary depending on the duration of the ride and the time of day. Early mornings and late afternoons might fetch higher prices due to the demand for sunrise or sunset views.
  • Check the boat’s condition: Before you commit, take a good look at the boat. Make sure it’s well-maintained and comfortable enough for the duration of your ride. If it’s a longer journey, check if there are cushions for comfort and perhaps a cover for shade.
  • Discuss the route: Have a chat with your captain about where you’ll go. Some might offer a short trip up and down the river, while others might propose a more scenic route. If you have preferences, now’s the time to mention them.
  • Timing is everything: For the best experience, consider the time of day. Early morning and late afternoon rides avoid the midday sun. Plus, sunset on the Nile is something pretty special.
  • Read reviews: Before booking, take a quick look at online reviews. Previous travelers often share valuable insights about their experiences with specific captains or tour companies.

By following these tips, you’ll be set for a memorable felucca journey on the Nile.

Our top travel tips and resources

Hotels: Booking.com is great for scoring a “wow” hotel – or at least a decent one. (We especially like their flexible cancellation policy!)

Vacation homes, condos and rentals: We prefer and use Vrbo (Vacation Rentals by Owner).

Tours: For the best local food, walking and other guided tours, plus skip-the-line tickets to attractions, check out Viator (a TripAdvisor company) and GetYourGuide.

Car rental: Renting a car is often one of the best ways to explore off the beaten path. Discover Cars searches car rental companies so you get the best rates.

Travel insurance: SafetyWing is designed for frequent travelers, long-term adventurers and digital nomads. It covers medical expenses, lost checked luggage, trip interruption and more. We also have and recommend Medjet for global air medical transportation and travel security.

Travel gear: See our travel shop to find the best luggage, accessories and other travel gear. (We suggest these comfy travel sandals for city walking, the beach and kicking about.)

Need more help planning your trip? Check out our travel tips and resources guide for airline booking tips, ways to save money, how to find great hotels and other crazy useful trip planning info.

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Photo credits: 1, 2, 4 to 6 © Janice and George Mucalov, SandInMySuitcase


About the authors

Luxury travel journalists and SATW, NATJA and TMAC “Best Travel Blog” award winners, Janice and George Mucalov are the publishers of Sand In My Suitcase. Between them, they’ve traveled to all 7 continents. See About.

Find destination guides, global food-and-wine stories, luxury hotel reviews, articles on cultural explorations and soft adventure trips, cruise reviews, insanely useful travel tips and more!

Sahil Bali

Thursday 9th of November 2017

Looks like you have enjoyed a lot and your photographs definitely look good!!!

Janice and George

Thursday 9th of November 2017

Yes, we do enjoy travel writing! Glad you like our photos :-). Thanks for commenting...

Frank

Monday 16th of May 2016

Spanky would have one question: "where is the bathroom?" As romantic as it sounds, she's not getting on any boat where she'll be stuck without a pottie.

Frank

Janice and George

Monday 16th of May 2016

Exactly! That's one reason why we say enjoy a few hours of sailing in Aswan on an Egyptian felucca but book a proper riverboat (complete with cabins and private ensuite bathrooms) for cruising the Nile.

Irene Levine

Thursday 12th of May 2016

This looks like a beautiful way to see the shores of the Nile with the wind behind you~

Janice and George

Thursday 12th of May 2016

Totally! For a few hours :-)